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Women At The World Series: Kristina Holst

Software Engineer First Learned To Play At Columbia


Kristina Holst goes above and beyond what one might expect from a poker player. The 31-year-old from Palo Alto, CA, was deep in the no-limit hold’em eight-handed event on Tuesday, June 17.

At the World Series last year, Holst came in sixth in the $5,000 pot-limit hold’em event, winning a total of $44,844. In addition, she placed 15th last week in the $1,000 no-limit hold’em turbo event, winning $11,188.

Despite Holst’s total winnings of $86,067, she considers poker a hobby—not a lifestyle.

Having worked for companies such as Facebook and Google, the software engineer first learned to play poker in the dorms of Columbia University, where she majored in computer science and economics. Holst has enjoyed home games with her co-workers over the years as well, and has made trips to play in the WSOP since 2009.

Card Player had the opportunity to speak with Holst during a break in play to talk about the traits that her line of work share with poker, as well as her variations in technique.

Elaina Sauber: How’s your Series going so far?

Kristina Holst: It’s going alright so far. I think I’ve played about 10 events—I had a deep run in the $1K turbo. Day two, [I’m] now in the $5K eight-max, so [it’s] going pretty well.

ES: Are you playing any other events this summer?

KH: Yeah, definitely the main event, and a couple other no-limit events. If I’m not still in this one, then I think there’s a $3K tomorrow that I’ll play in.

ES: I saw that you went to school at Columbia University for computer science and economics. You obviously understand numbers in a way that a lot of people don’t—do you think that’s helped in terms of your game?

KH: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a lot of logic-based thinking in poker, and I think that being a software engineer, I get to exercise a lot of skills that kind of come in handy, just in terms of the way I think about problems and try to break things down, and that sort of thing.

ES: When did you first learn to play poker?

KH: I first started playing in college, at Columbia. It was about 10 years ago, just playing in the dorm with some friends. It just started off playing, like, $10 tournaments with some friends. Every place that I’ve worked since then, [such as] Google and Facebook, I’ve joined in the weekly poker games there and kept active in it as a hobby.

ES: Is it fair to say people in your field enjoy logic-based games such as poker?

KH: I think so. A lot of people like poker, or chess, or backgammon. All these games have a very cerebral component to them.

ES: How did your family first react when you told them you were going to the WSOP?

KH: Well, I met my husband playing poker at one of those Google poker games, so he’s obviously a player also. He’s supportive. The rest of my family—they know it’s a hobby, so no big reactions there.

ES: You play a few different types of poker. Do you have a preference for one in particular?

KH: No-limit hold’em is definitely what I have the most experience in. Here at the World Series, I kind of play a variety of events, just to get my feet wet in other things, but definitely no-limit hold’em is [not only] the game that I know the best, but also tends to [have] the events with the toughest competition.

ES: Does your technique tend to vary depending on what type you’re playing?

KH: Definitely. You always have to kind of respond to the table you’re at, so there’s lots of different dynamics when people have short stacks or big stacks, or when people are really passive or really active, and you always need to kind of customize your play based on who you’re playing against at the time.

ES: What’s your technique generally like?

KH: I tend to be aggressive when I can get away with it, but also a lot of times at the World Series, you end up at a table where someone else is being table captain, and then it’s a little more about trying to trap them into a big pot.

ES: Have you ever encountered any obstacles as a female poker player in such a male-dominated industry? I’m sure you’ve faced the same thing in computer science as well.

KH: It’s not very different from being a software engineer in that respect. In most of these tournaments and most of the companies where I’ve worked, you’re lucky if you have 10 percent women. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever faced any obstacles…sometimes, some of the table talk can get a little more in the direction of things that are not quite my interests, but nothing I would call an actual obstacle.

ES: Do you ever feel a sense of solidarity with the other female players?

KH: So, I used to get really excited about things like being the last woman standing or that sort of thing. At this point, I actually feel more solidarity and have met a number of women—and there are so few women you see around at the tables that we tend to recognize each other, see each other in the restroom, that sort of thing. Now, I feel a lot more support in that respect and I try to support the other women out there playing. But in the past, you know, it was a little more of a pride thing to be the last woman standing, and now I think I’m a little more supportive (laughs).

ES: What’s the best piece of advice another player has ever given you?

KH: (Laughs) I would say you want to three-bet with the hands that are too crappy to call with.

ES: What advice would you give another woman pursuing poker?

KH: Getting started, I think that it helps to just get comfortable with the game, so definitely the biggest piece of advice would be to play for stakes that you’re comfortable with. You should never sit down at a table playing for any amount of money that you’re not OK with losing, or playing in a tournament where you really need to get that money back in that tournament, because it’s so unlikely that you’re going to score in any single one. Just try to stay comfortable, and one of the best ways to do that is to play a game where you’re going to try to do your best, but you’re not going to be super stressed out if you end up losing your money.